A new Monopoly celebrates women. But what about the game’s own overlooked inventor?
"Ms. Monopoly" is a new version of the iconic board game that "celebrates women trailblazers," according to Hasbro. Rich Uncle Pennybags has been booted and replaced by his niece. She is a young woman wearing a blazer and holding a cup of coffee (ready for a round of seed funding, presumably).
Hasbro announced the launch of game, which seeks to both spotlight women's innovations and call attention to the gender wage gap.
"With all of the things surrounding female empowerment, it felt right to bring this to Monopoly in a fresh new way," Jen Boswinkel told Kelly Tyko of USA Today. Boswinkel is senior director of global brand strategy and marketing for Hasbro Gaming.
"It's giving the topic some relevancy to everyone playing it that everybody gets a turn, and this time women get an advantage at the start."
At the start of the game, female players get more money from the banker than guys-$1,900 versus $1,500. They also collect $240 each time they pass go, rather than the usual $200. Instead of investing in real estate properties, players sink their money into inventions created by women. Examples inlcude "WiFi ... chocolate chip cookies, solar heating and modern shapewear."
But as Antonia Noori Farzan of the Washington Post reports, critics have been quick to point out that the game does not acknowledge Lizzie Magie. At the turn of the 20th century, Magie created the game upon which Monopoly was based.
Charles Darrow is the man widely credited with inventing Monopoly. He copied Magie's idea and sold it to Parker Brothers, which later became a Hasbro brand, explained Mary Pilon in a 2017 Smithsonian article. She is the author of The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game. Darrow became fabulously wealthy, while Magie was largely forgotten. She sold her patent to Parker Brothers for a mere $500
Ironically, the game that Magie invented was anti-monopolist in sentiment. She subscribed to the principles of Henry George. He was an American economist who believed that "individuals should own 100 percent of what they made or created, but that everything found in nature, particularly land, should belong to everyone," Pilon wrote in the New York Times in 2015. Magie's game was patented in 1904 and sought to spread George's ideas about the injustices of a system that allowed landowners to grow increasingly rich off their holdings. This happened while the working classes poured their money into rent.
It was called the Landowner's Game. It consisted of a rectangular board with nine spaces on each side, along with corners for the Poor House, Public Park and Jail. That's where you were sent if you landed on the "Go to Jail" square. Players would move around the board, buying up various franchises. They would earn money and pay rent. But there were two sets of rules for the game. One was "anti-monopolist," in which all players were rewarded when wealth was generated. The other was "monopolist," in which the goal was to accrue wealth while crippling the other players. "Her dualistic approach was a teaching tool meant to demonstrate that the first set of rules was morally superior," Pilon wrote in the Times.
"Let the children once see clearly the gross injustice of our present land system," Magie herself wrote in a 1902 article. "And when they grow up, if they are allowed to develop naturally, the evil will soon be remedied."
The game proved popular among left-leaning intellectuals. Various communities began to make their own versions of the game to include local landmarks. There was an iteration created by Quakers in Atlantic City that included a Boardwalk and a Park Place. That was the version Darrow first encountered in 1932. He was, at the time, an unemployed heating engineer. His fortunes would change when he sold the game to Parker Brothers in 1935. His game included the Quakers' modifications. In a letter to the company, Darrow claimed the idea as his own.
"Being unemployed at the time, and badly needing anything to occupy my time, I made by hand a very crude game for the sole purpose of amusing myself," he wrote. That's according to Farzan.
Magie was initially happy to sell her patent to Parker Brothers. She hoped that the company's backing would help her philosophies reach a mass audience. But Monopoly, which continues to be a best-seller, was ultimately a celebration of enterprising capitalism. The very opposite of the message that Magie hoped to convey.
In the wake of the release of Ms. Monopoly, a Hasbro spokeswoman stressed to the Los Angeles Times that "The Monopoly game as we know it was invented by Charles Darrow, who sold his idea to Parker Brothers in 1935."
"However," the spokeswoman continued, "there have been a number of popular property-trading games throughout history. Elizabeth Magie-a writer, inventor and feminist-was one of the pioneers of land-grabbing games."
In the eyes of Magie's modern-day admirers, Ms. Monopoly cannot truly pay tribute to women inventors without recognizing the woman who gave rise to the iconic game.
"If @Hasbro actually wanted to celebrate women's empowerment with their new 'Ms. Monopoly' game," Pilon tweeted, "why not *finally* acknowledge that a woman invented Monopoly in the first place?"